By Teresa Varley
Press Release Linebacker James Harrison capped off an impressive 2008 season when he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press on Monday.
"It's a tremendous honor," said Harrison. I feel good. I don't know if I have the words to express it, I am not going to show you the emotions, but it feels good."
Harrison, who was voted MVP by his teammates for a second straight year, set a Steelers single-season record with 16 sacks this year, bypassing the old record set by linebacker Mike Merriweather in 1984.
"When I saw him up close, I knew it would be broken this year," said Merriweather. "I knew the pace he was going he would do it. Having the chance to watch him personally at a Steelers game I knew this was going to be the year, despite all of the great linebackers who have come through there – guys like Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd and Chad Brown."
Harrison was voted a Pro Bowl starter for the second consecutive year while recording a career-high 100 tackles and 68 solo stops. Harrison was a menace to opponents all season, leading the NFL with seven forced fumbles.
Harrison was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 16. Harrison sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, forcing a fumble that resulted in a safety in the 11-10 win. Harrison also intercepted Rivers with the Chargers driving late in the first half and returned it 33 yards to put the Steelers to set up a Jeff Reed field goal.
Harrison was also voted the GMC Defensive Player of the Week by fans for his performance against the Chargers and Patriots.
"He is just geared for football, he is made for football," said Merriweather. "The physical aspect, the build that he has and the physical attributes that he possess, he is the prototype linebacker. He is not only the prototype linebacker, but he epitomizes what a Steelers linebacker is all about – hard-nosed, tenacious, get the job done and separate the ball from the ball carrier. He fits the mold and tradition of a Steelers linebacker.
"The talent and tenacity he has and his ability, it just comes out and stands out. He is making an impact week in and week out, not just with sacks but forced fumbles and freeing up LaMarr Woodley on the other side."
Harrison has probably taken one of the most unlikely routes to the player of the year honor, coming into the NFL as a rookie free agent in 2002 and starting off on the practice squad.
"In the offseason when I get the opportunity to look back once the season is over with, I sit back and I am a little amazed," said Harrison of how far he has come. "This year I came in and wanted to do better than I did the previous year."
Harrison is one of five Steelers players to be named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year and the first since Rod Woodson took the honor in 1993. Others who have won were linebacker Jack Lambert (1976), cornerback Mel Blount (1975) and defensive tackle Joe Greene (1972 and 1974).